Murcia looks on the brighter side
In the boom years before 2008 television viewers in the UK were treated to a series of ads featuring Jack Nicklaus as he invited guests and property owners at a Polaris World Resort in Murcia to join him for a few holes on one of the courses his company had designed there. “If not today, maybe tomorrow?” was Jack’s parting shot – and, indeed, when it comes to attracting potential holidaymakers and investors to this region of Spain, tomorrow may now have arrived. From 2006 Nicklaus was replaced in the ads by Polaris World CEO, Jose Luis Hernandez, who picked up something of a Facebook following for his polished performance.
But since the financial crash Polaris World and its ads have been absent from our TV screens.
The good news for anyone who did take the plunge is that the resorts are still hanging in there, with six Nicklaus Design courses currently open for play, including a Jack Nicklaus ‘signature’ course at Condado de Alhama. The others are at Mar Menor, El Valle, Hacienda Riquelme, Saurines de la Torre, and La Torre, where I spent a thoroughly pleasant couple of days staying at the Intercontinental Hotel and playing golf in welcome November sunshine.
On my visit I played at El Valle, La Torre, and Mar Menor (the latter actually a Dave Thomas/Jack Nicklaus hybrid with eight holes designed by Thomas and the remaining ten by Nicklaus). And I have to say that all three were in superb condition, boasting some of the finest greens I’ve ever had the pleasure of three-putting on, along with many of the usual Nicklaus trademarks – expansive waste bunkers, shaped fairways and plenty of water.
Originally planned to be known as the Polaris World Nicklaus Golf Trail the courses are now collectively called the ‘Murcia Golf Experience’, possibly because Polaris World has already sold the Mar Menor resort to another company. The course there was probably the weakest of the three I played, with El Valle – a real belter of an Arizona-style desert course – my favourite, its massive rock formations catching several of my wayward tee shots. Whilst looking for them I came upon numerous baited traps, even finding one in a fairway bunker, but, this being Spain and not Arizona, the traps were for rabbits not rattlesnakes, and definitely not dangerous to humans.
La Torre is the shortest and most compact of all six courses, barely scraping in at 6,000 yards even from the very back tees, yet its par of 68 (with six par-threes and just two par-fives) is still a good challenge, and what it lacks in length it makes up for in design – not to mention those wonderful putting surfaces. There’s also a good range and a practice green within a lob wedge of the clubhouse terrace.
The course at Saurines is another desert style, Hacienda a good championship test while big-hitters will be drawn to Jack’s signature design at Condado de Alhama, the longest at 6,884 metres from the tips. (Details of all the courses can be found at golf.marmenorresort.com/en/golf).
Green fees at all of the aforementioned courses for golfers not staying at any of the resorts are €65 year-round. For golfers renting apartments or villas at any of the Polaris properties (each named after the golf course), or staying at the luxurious Intercontinental La Torre, green fees are a reasonable €45. (Guests of the hotel can also take advantage of packages of three rounds for €111, five rounds €185, or seven rounds for €259, though for some reason I can’t quite fathom, all of these would be played on the La Torre course.)
Anyone in the market for a holiday bolthole will be impressed by the standard of the apartments on offer. The two- and three-bedroom units I looked at were well proportioned and perfectly comfortable, with en-suite bedrooms, fitted kitchens and bathrooms and air conditioning. Front line properties boast either terraces or balconies with views onto the golf course, swimming pool, or surrounding mountains. Villas have their own private swimming pools.
For many, the sheer scale of the developments will be something of a turn-off. Each of the resorts is effectively a self-contained small town with a variety of bars, pubs, restaurants, shops, supermarkets, banks and pro shops, gyms, and other assorted leisure facilities. But there is no doubting the value on offer here: the apartments and villas are very reasonably priced, with a two-bedroom apartment for four nights at La Torre costing from just €84 per night (for the apartment, not per person), valid from May 15 - September 15. From Sept 16 - Nov 30 that same apartment is yours for just €96 per night. A three-bedroom villa at La Torre for four nights costs €116 per night or €129 per night for the same time periods respectively (again that's per villa not per person). If you want to rent either of the above for a month the prices are €1,200 per apartment at any time of year and €2,160 per villa.
Staying at the luxurious Intercontinental La Torre is a more expensive option, as you would expect, with prices per person per night for a four-night stay in a deluxe double room costing either €119 or €139 for the same calendar periods as the apartments/ villas. These room rates include full use of the Intercontinental’s wonderful spa and gym, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
Whilst playing golf at any of these resorts you’ll see a lot of ‘En Venta’ (For Sale) signs hanging from apartment balconies or stuck prominently in villa gardens – and it’s a stark reminder of the financial crisis that many properties at La Torre are going for less than half what they cost five years ago.
A two-bedroom apartment that might have cost £200,000 in 2006 may now cost as little as €89,950. And some of the brand new two-bedroom apartments at Condado de Alhama are currently available for just €72,000 with 90% mortgages available. But, assuming the Eurozone problems do get sorted out, there are some positive signs on the horizon that make buying a property in the area worth thinking about.
In 2014 a Paramount Theme Park is due to open adjacent to the Condado de Alhama resort on land partly owned by Polaris World. This will be second only to Disneyland Paris in scale, is expected to create 20,000 new jobs in the area, and will attract an estimated 2½ million visitors annually to Murcia. The new Corvera airport is due to open next year, just 15 minutes from all the resorts, with budget airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet and Jet2 all committed to flying into it. Currently the nearest airport is San Javier, within 30 minutes of at least three of the Polaris World resorts 20 [I flew Monarch from Gatwick to Alicante and couldn’t fault the service. Check out the schedule at www.monarch.co.uk]
All in all, there’s a lot to be said for this region of Spain. One of the biggest selling points, of course, is access. It’s just a twohour flight from London, and so a quick visit is always possible and at prices that won’t break the bank. Then there’s the weather. With an average of 320 days of sunshine every year you can look forward to enjoying the Murcia Golf Experience in shirt sleeves.
The last few years have been tough everywhere, but on the evidence there’s reason to be optimistic in this wonderful and often underrated part of Spain. www.polarisworld.com
Gi’s property editor Peter Swain brings you the latest news on prices at Polaris properties
After the razzle-dazzle of its Jack Nicklaus-fronted TV launch, followed by the Spanish property crash of 2007/8, prices at this series of six Murcian resorts have now more than halved. And one of them, Hacienda Riquelme, has just been discounted by an extra 25%, so for anyone thinking about a bolthole in Murcia, now is a good time to take a look.
According to Paul Williams of Villacashback, who dominate sales in the UK, about 90% of the 700 or so freehold apartments and villas currently for sale are repossessions owned by a consortium of Spanish banks, keen to shift them asap.
Two-bed one-bath apartments at Hacienda Riquelme start at €54,775 (£45,000) but are more typically in the €67,600 (£55,200) to €88,000 (£72,000) range with an extra bathroom. Out of 1,800, there are 70 left to sell.
With a 5-star Intercontinental hotel, Mar Menor is a little ritzier. Good-sized two-bed apartments start at €132,000 (£107,000), with similar spec detached villas going for €165,000 (£135,000).
Buyers with a good credit rating and the appropriate level of provable income can find Spanish mortgages, while annual taxes and community fees are between €1,000 (£816) and €1,740 (£665).
Golfers can pay an annual membership of €1,600 (£1,305) for all six tracks, then just €7 a round, or a discounted pay and play rate of €30 to €60 per round. The banks own the courses, and so far they’re in good shape. But Spanish banks are themselves under international pressure, so when the property is sold out, logic suggests they may want to exit club management.
On the upside, the new Murcia airport is due to open next year, and the much-delayed Paramount theme park in Alhama should start construction any day. The downside is that until the inventory is unwound, and the Spanish economy improves, prices will remain depressed. So right now this is strictly a lifestyle purchase – forget about rental income or capital appreciation in the short term.